A friend of mine recently had dinner at her cousin’s place. She’d been told the night would end early—her cousin had to put their three-year-old to bed around 8:30 p.m. So after the meal, at 8:30, my friend politely excused herself and left. Later, both her cousin and her sister (who was also present) told her they’d thought she bolted because she was in a bad mood the whole night. Why? Because of what she calls her “resting bitch voice.”
When my friend told me this story, I knew exactly what she was talking about—I’m not particularly emotive, vocally, either. And unlike the so-called phenomenon of resting bitch face (along with the completely reasonable but once “radical” idea that we shouldn’t have to smile on command), RBV is still pretty inscrutable to most people.
An ex once told me he couldn’t figure out if I even liked him…even though we’d known each other for years. I briefly joined the mock trial team in high school, only to have the coach tell me—after months of memorizing scripts—that I wasn’t a convincing witness. (I’m totally not still sore about this.) And anyone who’s ever run into me in the office kitchen, particularly before noon, can attest to the fact that my register often comes across like a less-enthusiastic Siri.
Like RBF, it feels like something women have to address/compensate for/deal with in a way men never do. In pop culture, it’s used for exaggerated comic effect (see: Daria Morgendorffer, April Ludgate—both of whom, coincidentally, people have told me I remind them of). It’s a way to convey aloofness, annoyance, boredom. Meanwhile, here I am in real life, feeling a real-life range of emotions…which apparently all come out sounding like low-level disdain. It seems like men, on the other hand, are more likely to be perceived as stoic and authoritative (think Batman voice).
The thing is, I actually love interacting with people who are animated in their voices and mannerisms: Some of my best friends are born storytellers who are so vivid with their emotions, it’s contagious for anyone listening. For whatever reason, that kind of expressiveness has never come naturally to me, and when I try to force it, I just end up sounding weird and performative. But those who know me well have learned to read my subtler inflections, and a career in acting or public speaking was never on my bucket list anyway.
For the record, while I think it’s certainly more pronounced for women, the concept isn’t strictly gendered. My BFF’s husband has textbook RBV (and RBF, if I’m honest). But I say from experience, if you can break through the monotone and get him to laugh, it feels like some kind of victory.